On Feb. 5, the city of Riverside officially established the first of 26 community pantries throughout the city, all committed to combating food insecurity. This initiative is formally known as the Little Free Pantry program and is a collaborative effort between the city of Riverside, Inland Empire Health Plan and the Riverside Mutual Aid Network.
Now, the city of Riverside received about $28 million through the CARES Act, legislation dedicated to helping citizens navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately $13 million of these funds were allocated to supporting families with children through child care and food assistance. Thus, the Little Free Pantry program was created as a part of this effort. “The program has received such great interest and positive feedback that we are now looking into funding sources to continue this program as part of our existing Neighborhood Programs,” Josaline Cuesta, City of Riverside Community and Economic Development project assistant, stated.
UCR’s Oban Family Housing now has a Little Free Pantry on-site, dedicated to helping those students with families in need. Jazmin Garcia, an incoming ethnic studies graduate student living in Oban Family Housing, stated that because of COVID-19, family members and residents of Oban have been faced with many extra difficulties, herself included. She added that those within this housing community were already sharing resources like cooked meals and other items, but prior to the pantry installation in March, they never had a secure place to share and exchange any items with one another.
Due to her personal status as both a student and a single mother, Garcia struggled at times to provide and be present for herself and her son, an issue that worsened with the onset of the pandemic. As a resident advisor for Oban, Garcia herself has access to a meal plan, but that does not include her son. “I became desperate and was looking for local community fridges and/or food distribution events on the weekends,” she told The Highlander.
Shortly after the beginning of her search, Garcia discovered the Little Free Pantry program, immediately submitted an application for Oban Housing and contacted UCR Housing Services to request aid. Her request was quickly accepted, and she was connected with UCR Basic Needs in order to help support the pantry. Items reportedly change depending upon availability, but currently, the pantry is being supplied with an assortment of goods from baby formula to macaroni and cheese boxes.
“Little Free Pantries help neighbors help neighbors,” Cuesta stated, adding that these pantries are most ideal for those who are not as easily able to fulfill everyday food and/or personal needs. Community-supported, each pantry requires individuals who will allow the unit to be on their property, individuals who will aid in physical installation, as well as individuals who will take charge of upkeep as needed.
For those interested in applying for a pantry in their own neighborhood or elsewhere around the city, email Neighbor@RiversideCa.gov.